Kingmakers at Sainbury's; A SECRETIVE MOTHER-OF-FOUR HOLDS THE POWER TO MAKE OR BREAK EUROPE'S BIGGEST PRIVATE EQUITY DEAL

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

Kingmakers at Sainbury's; A SECRETIVE MOTHER-OF-FOUR HOLDS THE POWER TO MAKE OR BREAK EUROPE'S BIGGEST PRIVATE EQUITY DEAL


Byline: LAUREN MILLS

She is an unlikely kingmaker in retail Britain. A secretive American mother of four young children, Amelia Morris gives the impression that she likes nothing more than curling up with a company's balance sheet.

Yet she once again finds herself in the spotlight with the power to make or break a multibillion pound takeover of one of Britain's biggest High Street names.

Morris, a senior analyst at American investment house Brandes Investment Partners, controls an 11 per cent stake in Britain's third-biggest supermarket group, Sainsbury's. And her view will be crucial if chief executive Justin King seeks support to fight a possible takeover bid from private equity players.

Only three years ago she played a pivotal role in the takeover battle for Marks & Spencer, initially backing tycoon Sir Philip Green's 400p-a-share offer. But after he abandoned his bid, she went on a buying spree to increase Brandes' stake to 15.2 per cent, to show faith in chief executive Stuart Rose. She has since made millions selling the shares as the market price soared.

Publicity-shy Morris declined to talk about plans for her stake in Sainsbury's. But people who know her reckon she could cause trouble for a potential bidder. 'Morris is important,' said one.

'And she wants a premium price.' Last week, it emerged that private equity giants CVC Capital Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Blackstone Group were considering a takeover offer for the supermarket giant. The consortium has approached retail's dynamic duo of Allan Leighton and Archie Norman - architects of Asda's revival - to lead a bid.

They know Morris is not the only pivotal player. For a bid to succeed, any predator must convince Lord (David) Sainsbury and the rest of the founding family to sell out. By an unhappy coincidence, Judith Portrait, who controls the Sainsbury family trust, sold a three per cent holding the day before bid interest emerged and sent the share price soaring nearly 62p to 507p on Friday.

Portrait sold 40 million shares at 435p, netting a total of [pounds sterling]174 million.

While the Sainsbury family must have gasped at this, friends say they are just as concerned about who takes control of the family silver.

Step forward Justin King, chief executive since March 2004, who masterminded a remarkable recovery at the ailing group. …

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